How often do you get to the end of a busy day and wishyou could pop in for a massage on your way home?
Well, we can’t offer that - but we can show you how to give yourself a relaxing calf massage! So sit back and relax: you’ll be feeling zen in no time.
Massage seems to have developed convergently in many countries across the globe, and the first records of therapeutic massages are found in India, China and Egypt.
While Chinese massage has formed the basis of modern acupuncture and acupressure, and Egyptian massage has formed the basis of modern reflexology, ancient Indian massage techniques most closely resemble Ayurvedic practices still used today.
From the Sanskrit word for “life health”, Ayurveda combines meditation, relaxation and aromatherapy with massage.
Meanwhile, Egyptian massages hugely influenced Roman and Greek practices, which eventually spread across Europe.
In the early 1800s in Sweden, these early practices were refined, and became known as the Swedish massage - and it’s still the most popular massage technique used in Europe!
Massages were initially performed almost exclusively by the ancient equivalent of doctors, but good news - with a bit of practice, you can give yourself a relaxing massage without a professional’s help.
Massage is simply the application of pressure to your body.
It allows you to connect with your body, and work out any knots or pressure points that are causing you trouble.
This is particularly useful if you’ve been experiencing some muscle pain, and might allow you to lessen the tension without having to see a doctor or masseuse.
However, massage isn’t just a physical practice - it also helps us to achieve a state of mindfulness, and allows us to focus on what we’re feeling. It even affects hormone levels enough that it can actually change our mood!
There are plenty of things that could cause your muscles to become stiff, but we’ll focus on the ones you’re likely to come across in everyday life.
The first option is simply overuse. If you’re doing a lot of the same movement, you’ll find that your muscles start to seize up and become sore. Think repetitive strain injury - it can happen to any muscle in your body. Even walking relatively long distances, if you’re not used to it, is enough to cause muscle pain!
The second likely cause of muscle ache is that you exercised (hooray!), but didn’t warm up or cool down effectively (boo!). Spend a few minutes before your workout doing some light versions of the movements you’re about to practise, and maybe some cardio.
Then, when you’ve finished the hard stuff, make sure to do some gentle stretching to ease the tension in your muscles. We bet you won’t spend the day after the gym hobbling anymore!
The last common cause is that you’ve somehow injured your muscle; a strain, pull or tear caused by an accident, sudden movement, or athletics means that you’re likely to be in quite a bit of pain.
We all know massages are enjoyable - if you don’t immediately think of luxe spa weekends then you’ve been to the wrong massages! - but did you know they actually have a whole lot of benefits for your body, too?
As you begin to relax and unwind, your body releases endorphins. These little neurotransmitters are what make you feel calm and happy - they’re the wellness workers!
Endorphins are also released by things like exercise and chocolate, so massages fall into the same ‘looking after yourself’ category (small amounts of chocolate is fine… right?).
Meanwhile, the levels of your ‘stress hormones’ - cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine - drop dramatically. This causes your heart rate to slow and your blood pressure to drop, promoting a soothing and relaxing environment for your body and mind to unwind from the stresses of the day.
Of course, the benefits of a massage aren’t just mental! There are some incredible physical benefits too, which can ease muscle pain and make life much more pleasant.
One of the most obvious benefits is the improved circulation in the affected limb. The pressure from the massage itself causes blood to move through the muscle, and then when the pressure is removed, blood flows more freely back through the tissue.
Massage can also help to reduce muscle tension. We suggest hopping into a hot bath and soaking in some Epsom salts before trying out these massage techniques - both will help to loosen the muscle fibres and make your muscles more receptive to massage.
Alternatively, reserve the bath for post-massage, when you’re semi-relaxed and ready to fall into a warm cocoon of bliss!
Another benefit of massage is the boost your body gets from the stimulation of its lymphatic system. As you knead the muscles, the count and function of your white blood cells is improved, thereby providing you with a dose of energy and a decrease in inflammation.
Because of this anti-inflammatory property, massage can even improve your skin tone! Try it next time your legs are looking a little dull or mottled - you’ll be surprised by the difference.
The benefit of a calf massage is that you can do it by yourself - no masseuse (or willing partner) needed!
There is no set time for how long a calf massage should be! If you’re hoping for a relaxation session, though, we’d aim for around ten minutes, so that you can fully get the benefit of any other techniques - like deep breathing or mindfulness - that you’re employing.
Make sure you’re in the right mindset for whatever you’re trying to achieve. If it’s relaxation you’re after, set aside all distractions and focus on your body - being mindful of the massage is just as important as the physical sensation.
That means no Netflix, and no doing it in between cooking! Why not indulge in a bath before you start, dropping in a few drops of the essential oil you plan to massage with?
Not only will the bath cause the muscle fibres to relax, but doubling up the scent means your mind will associate both the bath and the massage with periods of calm.
You could even try some deep breathing exercises in time with the strokes, which will calm your body and allow you to focus on exactly what you’re feeling in that moment.
However, if you’re just trying to alleviate some pain - Netflix away! As long as you’re focused enough that you’re not accidentally doing any damage to your body, you can have a few distractions.
Start from a chair, with your feet bare and flat on the floor. Then, gently stroke from the back of your ankle to the knee, around ten times for each leg.
If you can’t feel anything, try again using more pressure. Conversely, if it hurts too much to bear, either give up and leave it to the professionals (or time!), or try again with lighter strokes.
If you have one handy, using a rolling pin provides a smooth, even pressure all the way up your calf - just remember you’re trying to soothe your muscle, not roll pastry to within an inch of its life!
Once you’ve finished that stage, start to knead your calf muscle, concentrating on any knots that stand out.
Aromatherapy is a powerful tool - and one that has been involved in massage for centuries. Alongside the relaxing benefits of the massage itself, you can harness the power of scent to push your body to properly unwind and indulge.
If you’re not a fan of aromatherapy, reach for coconut oil. Not only will it help your fingers to glide over your skin, it’ll leave you highly conditioned, and it’s pretty much scent-free.
If you’re willing to give aromatherapy a go, we have a few favourite scents you should try out!
Recommended Aromatherapy Oil
Good for more than just tea! This tranquil scent helps to reduce overthinking and reduces stress. Just like lavender, it’s a great option if you’re after a good night’s sleep.
This is great for a pick me up. The smell is invigorating and fresh and sure to awaken the senses to feel more alert
Most citrus smells have the ability to uplift the mood. This zesty aroma is great for enhancing positivity
Any of those sound too herbal for your taste? Try vanilla. A natural sedative, vanilla essential oil soothes your mind, reminiscent of birthday cakes and ice cream sundaes - no wonder it’s a natural antidepressant! You’ll find after using it that your mood has been lifted, and you feel clearer and more focused.
One of the most important things to do after a massage is to drink plenty of water.
Remember when we mentioned that one of the benefits of massage is a boost to your lymphatic system? What that means in practice is that your body gets more efficient at flushing out toxins - which is great.
To do this, however, it utilises more water than usual - and the more you use up, the more you need to replace. If you don’t, you risk your lymphatic system becoming slow and dehydrated, and it will be incapable of efficiently removing toxins.
Besides, it never hurts to drink a little more water!
Alongside your drink, we’d recommend you have a snack on hand. Your lymphatic system isn’t the only circulatory system to get a boost - digestion does as well.
You might suddenly feel rather light-headed, and lacking in energy - so be ready, and have a handful of nuts or some fruit ready to get you feeling your best again. You also need to check in with yourself mentally. Massages release all sorts of hormones, and a rush of hormones usually means a few mood swings.
You might find that if you’ve been especially stressed lately, the sudden drop in stress hormones gives way to an onslaught of sadness or anger that has been held back thus far.
If that’s the case, don’t feel embarrassed! Let the emotions come, and then figure out the root cause - it’s normally something you can do something about. Even if it isn’t, you can focus on ways to unwind after a busy day so that the build up of stress doesn’t become overwhelming.
We’d also recommend you rest after any form of massage. You’ve just pampered yourself! Don’t ruin it by immediately going back to chores! Meditate, have a nap, curl up under a blanket with a good book - we don’t mind, as long as it makes you happy.
Try not to do any strenuous exercise, though - your muscles will be more relaxed and stretched out than usual, which could lead to injury if you overdo it.
Do you think you’ll be incorporating a calf massage into your wellness routine? Why not try it out and see how it feels - you might be surprised at the difference it makes!